November Column Winner

Stormy seas shake up Harvest Moon dream

TED STREULI, The Journal Record

When I pick up a sailing magazine and read stories about blue water adventures and picturesque ports of call, I am awash in the romance of salty air, fresh breezes, unimpeded stars and sunsets that make the whole ocean glow for my personal enjoyment.
It was just such a story about the Harvest Moon Regatta, a race from Galveston to Port Aransas, Texas, that fired my dreams. Two hundred boats enter, few caring about the winner, for the Harvest Moon is a siren of a race that seduces the cruising set, those accustomed to loading their galleys with wine in a box and setting their cares on the dock before boarding, and choosing whether to pick them up upon return.
I got a call from Jeff Vercher, a University of Oklahoma grad from Houston, who thought I might enjoy a ride on Boomer Schooner. Indeed I would; I had fantasized about every moment of this race, right down to the mermaid visiting the cockpit under the full orange moon while dolphins danced alongside.
We set out just before sunrise on Thursday, Oct. 25. Vercher, David Hajduk and I were the sailors; the skipper's brother and a close friend were along for the ride and willing to follow directions.
Among sailing's proverbs is one that says sailing will teach you whatever you need to learn, and I was about to discover that dreams become nightmares in a snap.
The weather was excellent, and by late Thursday night we were passing Freeport. The wind was dying and two of us stayed on deck hoping to make at least some headway. The moon lit the flat water, where the only sound was the warning signal on a nearby oil rig.
By morning, a front was moving in and the wind was blowing hard, holding at a minimum of 15 knots with one recorded gust hitting 52 knots, about 60 mph. The boat was flying through 6-foot waves, the port rail in the water, five middle-aged, white-collar men laughing at the thrill.
The fun ended at 10:30 a.m. when the rig broke. Sailboat masts are held up by cables attached to the hull by stainless steel plates. One of those plates had corroded through and snapped, rendering the sails unusable. When the pandemonium of securing the sails ended, we turned on the motor and pointed the boat to Port O'Connor, the closest fuel dock.
The seven-hour ride through big waves and saltwater showers was long and uncomfortable, but we were glad to refuel and decided to re-cross choppy Matagorda Bay and get into the Intercoastal Waterway, where we would spend the next two days motoring home in calmer water.
Motor trouble thwarted our plan, and we found ourselves being battered about in the dark, surrounded by obstacles, Poseidon flinging us about with the ease of fluffing a pillow.
I spent much of the night wet, seasick and scared, hugging the mizzenmast and seeing clearly that a person overboard was unlikely to be found. My thoughts turned to two little blondhaired boys and their mother, and I felt the desperation of being separated from them forever.
We bounced off a barge, or maybe a boat, passed through a lock and by grace hit a stretch of sandbags instead of the surrounding rocks, but, engine stalling, we limped into the Matagorda Harbor Marina before daybreak. Sails and motor gone, we left the boat and found a ride back to Houston Saturday afternoon.
The fantasy was dashed. But the priorities were realigned, and I have newfound reason to revel in playing catch with a 6-year-old and letting his little brother tug on my ears and laugh.
It really does teach whatever you need to learn.